Don’t let them tear you down

You are the master of yourself.

None of them –not a single one of them– has ever worked as hard as you have to be where you are. And they never will, because they don’t understand what it means to sacrifice. They entice you with their sweet talk and seeming reward, though they do not know the meaning of true consistency. It is the mark of a true friend, a true warrior: the ability to commit, to disregard the past, and to follow through. They will make a mockery of your endeavor simply because the misery of normalcy demands it. Yet you are above, and while they seem not to lie, that a pinch will do nothing, they only care that you forget yourself in the moment. And that is the very trap you must resist.

Do not forget. Do not forget the surety that you know you can reach your goal. Do not forget that you have come so far because of your vigilance and ability to be true to yourself. Do not forget that there are others who would ravage to have what you have. Your friends seek to tear you down with them out of no malice, only the hidden jealousy that feeds any spirit who does not wish to better himself, and therefore others.

Listen only to you. Only to you.

Only you know.

I Will Not Be a Flake

If there’s one thing I’m not, I’m not a flake. I refuse to be a flake. To me, there aren’t priorities. There have never been priorities. There are simply commitments. My mind cannot stack items in order of importance because there will always be some threshold that prevents all of the things at the bottom of the list from being reached, so those things really have no place on this list.

[Is a task of low priority a promise? Will the items at the top of the list disappear, with the low priorities suddenly becoming high? That’s possible, depending on what they are. In my experience, low priorities stay low because they were low to begin with, and if they have little importance to you now then how can it become more important later? ]

All my life I’ve been told to take a chill pill. I thought I had improved, but there’s only so much that people get right about themselves. I’ve always thought that I had no trouble saying no to things, and I still think so. If I don’t want to do something, I will say no firmly. Strangely though, I’m only now realizing that I still have significant difficulty saying no to things that I would love to do. Too bad there are just countless things that I would love to do. I marvel at golden opportunities that blossom everywhere, and there is only so little that I can take.

I suppose this is where intelligent humans learn to prioritize and put first things first. Does scripture study take the top of the list, or does sleep, hygiene, my girlfriend, job, future preparations, any one class or every class? Then all those unimportant things – eating well, saving money, attending activities, extra study and practice, a social life, personal interests, hobbies, exercise, blogging – do they make up a bottom half of the list? Clearly not everything can be done at once. But are there really things that cannot be attended to? Clearly they all must be in order to promote some sort of balance in life. But I think people like me can really only pick and choose what must be done at one point in order to keep sane. Businesses, clubs, organizations…. they are so afraid to lose you. You are a human, an invaluable resource. They are selfish and want the most out of you, for a somewhat one-sided benefit. Friends want your time. School demands it. Work requires it.

I had a thought not long ago. “Be a flake,” it said. “Just give it a try.” That’s not something that’s ever crossed my mind before. Perhaps, in order to get into the habit of saying no, I ought to irresponsibly quit whatever I had going. Just this past week, I took a last-minute trip to San Diego with my friends and ditched a conference that I had been helping plan for many months. It was literally some of the freshest air I had breathed for a long time. I had to ask whether or not this was a priority to me.

It was not a priority. It was a commitment, one that I had made long ago, and one that I was no longer willing to keep. A man only has his word, and if his word means nothing, then what is he? I broke a commitment, in turn making another. A man can only handle one thing at a time. So I guess my word isn’t perfect after all.

Why did I make a commitment? Did I actually want to do it? Sure, I did. But how often do the things we want to do actually make us happy? I could get some kind of fulfillment out of doing a host of things, and I can look back with fond memories at all the things that I’ve done. But that’s the way I’d like to remember them. They were difficult, I was confused half the time, I was generally unhappy. Is it possible then that there is really nothing that stresses me out? I stress myself out when I place my commitments to the forefront of my mind where they belong. I cannot do the things that I want. I cannot even do the things that I need. I can only do what makes me happy. The minimum! It sounds like nothing, not very much. But it so quickly goes over the top.

I guess I was worried about living a fulfilled life. But my guess is that such a life is not necessarily a filled life. Life will become full of something, and I assume if anything low-priority has any part in it, those need to be as consistent and fruitful as high priorities. Whatever those may be. I really am not going to assume that anyone can be happy doing things any one way. But I suppose I can make a few observations—

  • Trying to hard to make a difference in the world right at this moment can be really distracting, when focusing on personal happiness can actually influence other lives immediately in a much better way.
  • A lot of things are important, and if they are, learn to do them all. Don’t eat poorly forever because there isn’t enough time to learn how to cook.
  • That being said, even things that seem important need to be swept under the rug for a while. Those might be low priority, but when something is swept away then there’s a better chance of it not popping back up anyway.
  • Life doesn’t have to be an enormous laundry list, with a few small breaks in between. Maybe it’s one big holiday, with some problem-solving situations shoved inside to make it interesting.
  • Anticipate that when life gets busy, it gets busy fast. So no need to keep filling your time, unless you are sure that it will be empty for a good while.

Sleep is a Death

Sleep is a death each time it befalls us.
We are gone, simply gone, when we fall and lose consciousness.
How long is a death?
An eternity, until it is broken, when we are woken.

To awaken half-risen,
without arousing the faculties,
the mind desires to turn.
Where are you, who are you?
The mind searching to remember.

And so that Renaissance which you alone found,
the great stretch of the body and mind,
became a memory,
and sleep brought death upon the spirit which you once joyfully claimed.

Can you reclaim it?
Try as you must, or continue as dead.
There are no great victories,
because they are all so many, so small.
The small victories,
day by day,
build the fortress over death.

Faith, Hope, and Love

When a recent missionary wrote in her email, “I think it’s so crazy that everyone is just taking their own separate paths now in life!”, I remembered having the same thoughts and fears. I still have these thoughts, but as I grow older I remember we started taking our own separate paths a long time ago. This was my reply:

You might feel homesick every once in a while, but don’t be alarmed that all these things are going on back home. You won’t recognize the world you return to, and that’s okay. At least I didn’t, but that was because we weren’t emailing our friends back then; I’d be lucky to hear family members several times a year. People come and go; even if you want to stay friends with everyone, they may not choose the same, and that may be simply because there are only so many people one person can handle in their life. You have a great family that will still be here when you come back, and I know it’s hard to believe, but the best is yet to come! It sounds like you are deep into the work, so there’s no real worries.

I did learn a lot of things on my mission. Many of those things do apply to me now, and I was just thinking about one of them. A bit into my mission, my companion asked me, “Do you love being a missionary?” I thought it was a loaded question. To be honest I did love it, but I didn’t know whether or not that was true at the time. When the time came for me to go home though, I was sure as a rock that this was something that I loved. There wasn’t any other life that I wanted. Going home was one of the saddest moments of my life. But it shouldn’t be. There is life after death, and it’s just got different rules than mission life. People usually just make it up as they go along. Thinking about that gave me strength recently, because I know many people as well as me worry about “loving” every moment of what you’re doing, otherwise you’re wasting time. But I don’t think it works like that. It’s just easier to realize that you love something that you have spent time loving, so if you haven’t started, then the best time is now, and the best way is to smile and give it a shot. Eventually, it becomes clear.

It doesn’t really sound like it beforehand, but the mission is such a high! It’s a high through and through and it’s super difficult the entire time. But the high comes from the hope and faith of the missionaries and the support that companions and leaders lend them. And then there’s the love of the work, which for me came with time. I think it’s a special combination of these principles that empowers our lives. At the moment, I am comforted by this thought, because I know that my situation need not be one of despair. Last night the missionaries were at my house and asked us how faith, hope, and charity were related to miracles. Faith and hope bring miracles to us, but charity is how God works through us to bring miracles to others. Obviously there are other ways, but I love the simplicity and sincerity of the principles which remind me to push forward with a smile.

Slimming Down on Junk

I have a new goal for myself. I often find that when I am swamped in work or just wanting for time, I also find myself indulging in mindless drudgery, useless bits of time. These can include excessively checking the phone, snacking and eating fast food, or going on YouTube and otherwise just chilling. Thinking on this makes me realize just how how much of my life is can be wasted, even harmed. Resorting to these habits may help me forget what stresses me out, but also the little important tasks that need to be done. They take less effort than other things that aren’t necessarily required of me, but would benefit me in the long run. Such things as:

  • exercising/strengthening
  • playing music (esp. in preparation for something)
  • studying a foreign language
  • scheduling dates/friendshipping
  • programming
  • reading
  • overall becoming educated/acquiring new skills

It’s a rather odd phenomenon that these actions, when their durations are totaled, take up a significant portion of the time that I actually have to myself. I told a good friend how I felt about having time to do things, and he reasoned that “you sleep for eight hours and work for eight more. Add in eating and driving and that’s a few hours more. You still have around four hours a day to do different things.” Thankfully I live close to my work and do not have to experience daily traffic. That’s quite a blessing, though coming home after working for a day, I would simply like to nap, while in my mind, I urgently need to hit the gym, eat dinner, and participate in other activities for the night (and when those activities involve other people, they hardly ever only last one or two hours).

I don’t know if it is necessary to “fast” from these activities, like a diet. But I do think it is important for me to think more before acting, in order to make things happen. It’s good to wind down and watch full movies every once in a while. At least they are something to talk about later. But I am sure that stopping myself before mindless self-indulgence gets out of hand will greatly benefit me in every way.

This Will Pass

“Pay attention to how you feel,” I would ask this of people all the time as a missionary. I knew what to expect, but perhaps I didn’t understand why exactly saying this was so necessary. Now, after each day of having to drag with me a load of my weaknesses and shortcomings, I am frequently at a loss at how to regain myself. I seem to recognize that I am just a footprint that society wishes to erase. I never anticipate, and similarly neither do I expect it, to enjoy peace. In fact I seldom remember that this is what I crave when I lack others to help lift me.

At this very moment, all I care about is that I have peace. Right now. And it feels familiar, but still fresh. Like I know that I have felt it countless times before, but it still feels like such a rarity all the same. It seems transient and dispensable, like a spell that eventually will break, but can be enjoyed for a stretched bubble of time.

This is how I felt as a child, sitting in the dark at the piano with only a lamp above and the silence surrounding whatever reality I chose to create. This is how I felt during long nights at New Heritage, facing the large window and seeing a future as wide as my view. This is how I felt as I stepped foot onto the airplane on the first day of my mission, boosted by the words of the blessing given by my patriarch. This is how I felt on a long drive from Port Macquarie, listening to waves breaking on the rocks and the sound of earnest prayer. This is how I felt after a day in Hyde Park, hearing the words of others who shared the peace they felt in their hearts, as I shared mine. It passed, but it was real.

I am impressionable. I listen for the beauty of music, the deepness of words. My heart is open to the dews of heaven, soft enough to plant the seeds of inspiration. This is the mind of an innovator, a creator, and a thinker. This is everything that is necessary in an anxious, buzzing world ever in need of more, always more. Memories of light seem brighter than the sun under which I walk every day. This too will pass, but I am inclined to believe that it is real.

In every hardship, every trial with seemingly no end, the words “this will pass” never seems to strike with the power of its truth at the correct moment. But then peace arrives, time after time, so that it feels like a dream. And maybe in a way it is, as I could throw it all away if I wanted and become anxious once again. Somewhere in my heart I can’t help but feel that this world is meant to have meaning. I’m not sure what that meaning is. I feel as though I don’t need to know, and that having such little light is enough for now. I know that soon I will say goodbye to this brief moment of my life when I can enjoy that something deep can touch me, as it was meant to, and I hope that when I return to whatever state my life is in, I can appreciate the rays of light that, at times, I am privileged to touch.

“Snap out of it!”

For a brief moment, you had vanished from the world and were lost somewhere in imagination. But suddenly you stepped away, choosing not to hold onto those wild feelings.

“Snap out of it. You’re in the real world. Things in this world require your attention, where people suffer real consequences. There simply isn’t time to explore the world of your selfish pleasures while your life ticks away.” Am I simply no longer a child, with no more means to wander and grow? How could the world have become so cruel as to take us away from our guilty pleasures and romantic escapades? We could just live them through others, through video and photos taken by others, injecting in us with pangs of jealousy. Their worlds are either real or fantasy, but it wouldn’t really matter, because they aren’t ours. We just digest them in bites and move on, for the sake of time. If only goals were reached this way, watching others succeed as we watch ourselves sulk away in misery. How was that other world I saw created? It was created in the mind of a person. It was fashioned by somebody, somehow. Your world, and the world you see others live, those existed and you had to experience them in some way. But they weren’t new and probably didn’t carry with them any personal attachment.

I suppose I am lucky though. I somehow landed a job, which I could keep if I worked hard at it. I will finish school without having suffered too much debt. Although, I am alone. I would really enjoy having a companion at my side. It is said that you can really marry any person and learn to love and get along with that person. But would I inflict that upon myself? I’m one of those obsessed dreamers that wants the one that is for me. Just like I want the job that is for me, or the major, school, location, and lifestyle. Actually, I could get used to this. My life is fine — I do fear that in the near future, I will be beyond broke, still be alone, and will all but beg as the others who have gotten ahead provide for their loved ones — but that’s a silly fear. I can live cheaply and still live nonetheless.  And I would get used to it. I could stop everything I have and learn to live in the wilderness, away from the corporate world. And I would survive, because that would be the life I’d have chosen. In fact it would be wonderful to escape the fear of running out of money, or “reality” as many call it, although quite frankly it’s the same concept as following what makes one happy, otherwise known as pursing a “dream”. Why then should I only suffer in finding a good mate while I let the rest of my life settle in mediocrity? I guess it’s because I’ve never had to put in so much effort to figure everything out at once. And my body rejects it, just like it rejects every other good thing in my life, out of fear of losing my now-known comfort.

I can learn not to be dissatisfied. I can be happy with the life that I have, and I would be happy because I so chose. But should I worry if I could be happier? I guess you have to ask yourself how far you’re willing to go. James Marsden once described going through an intense process in order to get abs for a show. He said that it wasn’t worth it at all — he is fine with how he looks, and pursuing that image was just not worth the effort. I have also fantasized about having a six-pack and being worshiped for doing nothing but simply having a body, but that may just be a dream that requires more than we can reasonably afford. It is definitely achievable for many people, and good job to them that have worked and achieved such. I think that may key as well — you’ll only really be satisfied with how far you’ve gotten if it’s your efforts that have gotten you there.

To be a Good Man

We stand still. Growing, little by little, but static in the scheme of things. Many people pass by our way, though a great many more stay in place. The years pass and the pages unfurl, yet the words never move, neither are they touched. You realize that these people, such friendly and good-willed people, all around you are no different from you. Unfruitful, unknowing of which way to turn. No other trifle of knowledge could be so chilling.

The world presents a dilemma, or five-hundred or so at once. When you stand in the midst of it all, you lend a hand to help. Each hand helped becomes a friend, or an acquaintance, as no man can be so close.

Why, then, are you a good man? How does one see the pages unfold and transform through the torrents of nature? Is not mankind alone, together alone, with no bond but that of the fleeting intimacy of friendship? Why are you a good man, alone a good man in a universe of space and nothingness?

The value of a soul, the value of a life … why must there be other life than yours alone? Is it not good for man to be alone? Loneliness is trust because other men have proven so frail. Yet loneliness, peace and silence, sits without knowing the goodness and atrocity of synergy. It is loneliness that drains the life of value, while others progress like the puppets behind the wall. It is loneliness that robs the truth of meaning, through the incapability of transmission. And it is loneliness which takes from life a life, a particle subject to chaos but invisible in the masses.

You, my friend, are a good man. A globe you have held upon your shoulders, while those on its surface have wandered still in search of their hero. Alone, you are a good man, but the world calls to you for the joy they can see but still do not believe. The gods scrambled for the fruit of your labors, and though your stature reached high above the ground, those men were never seen by you but eye to eye. Is the friend alone, or is the befriended? And for whom will the desolation dissipate? I see in you the good man who chooses the good, because it makes men good men. To be a good man — how I wish to be a good man! But to be a good man is to know, to do and to love, without reservation, and with unceasing growth. And perhaps that is the great blessing: that a good man finds himself alone, so together we may find ourselves.

Prayer Report

I feel like this has been a very difficult week for everyone. School has just been hard, at times making me feel worthless. I tried helping someone who was looking to hire a tutor for his homework and I found I could not help, even it was rather simple. And so I broke down afterwards. That happened several times this week. I failed a midterm. I haven’t been finishing homework. Anyway I have been waiting for a break but it will never come.

I have lost my emotions more times than I can count, and though it is probably not without precedent, it has certainly been a while since this has been the case. I had been up Thursday night doing homework at the last minute, only finishing less than half before having to click the submit button. I have already been doing poorly in that class too, and my inability to complete one more assignment was unsettling. It was very late at night and I had to wake up early to receive a phone call for possible internship. But my phone would not turn on so I could set an alarm, and I stood there waiting while I lost sleep. I was angry, to say the least. But then I suddenly thought that if I wanted my phone on, I could ask God. The words of James 1:5 came to my head and I felt the need to try it.

Each day passes by and my prayers are usually meaningless and short.

But I asked Heavenly Father if that phone could turn on. And I asked for what I didn’t have – the Holy Ghost. I stopped when my phone seemed to start working again and I just stood there very calmly. It was totally dark and I wondered if I had been inviting evil spirits instead of the Spirit through my actions. But I could not believe that up until that point, I had been a raging emotional mess. At that moment, everything seemed okay.

The call did not come in the morning, but that experience taught me something. That even though I feel like a terrible person, I am still able to receive the Holy Ghost. And that there is some power I can draw for myself through prayer.

I went skiing that night with my friends. I have skied only a few times, but I have been improving. The only thing I haven’t tried is the biggest, steepest slope – ‘Top Gun’, a black diamond trail. So it seemed about time for me to try it, because everyone else already had. My friend told me that I would hate it the first time. When he took me up, he went down very easily. And it was his first time snowboarding. I could not go down even halfway because my skis kept falling off and I had so much trouble moving. I felt really helpless because every time I fell, I would slide down the mountain because it was so steep and putting skis back on without standing was very difficult. It seemed impossible, except that I remembered that each time I have gone skiing, I have been going down steeper and steeper slopes. Each time there was a big difference; this was especially true the first time I had gone skiing, as I had been terrified. In my mind I wished it to be flat and easy. But it was a mountain, and you slide down it. But every time I’ve gone I’ve had to try again and in a few tries, it becomes comfortable. To me, this was the same experience. This slope was so steep that if I didn’t keep cutting into the ice, I would slide down all the way to the bottom on my back. I actually gave up and finished the slope by taking off my skis and sliding down that way. But I realized that I had made a lot of progress in a few times skiing. My friends kept pushing me to do harder things. I’ve never played any sports in my life, and I’ve always thought I was crazy. But I realized that my frustration is a good thing. It help me get through these small trials. And these trials keep getting bigger and bigger very quickly. But learning how to get over them makes people stronger. So I knew that this task will not be difficult for long. Just try it again, and it will work.

I wished today was a day I could relax, but it is not. Parts of me still wish I could be stronger, handsome, athletic, and smart like my friends. But I suppose if I knew that I could do better just by trying, it would make me a better person than I am.

The Innovative

I awoke this morning feeling in a state of anguish. Or perhaps a better term would be frustrated. In any case, I was late to my 8AM class and was surely missing something important. Sure enough, I walked in conveniently just after a quiz and a lengthy explanation of the week’s project and I was left to figure things out on my own (unsuccessfully). A friend asked where I was headed afterward. “I don’t know. Home I guess. Get ready for the day.”

I didn’t intend to get ready for the day. I just assumed some more sleep would console my lack of enthusiasm for my unexciting life. So I lay on my bed to rest, determining that the list of items on my to-do list would get done eventually, but I was too uncomfortable to get started on them.

I recently had a conversation with a good friend with whom I’ve been long out of touch. This dialogue led me to ponder on my attitude toward where I am now. I miss that free, adventurous life. Sure, life as a engineering student can be adventurous in some ways, but this creativity is bounded given a great many initial conditions. Abstraction is replaced with optimization. Clarity is replaced with precision. I don’t walk around humming new melodies in search of the most vibrant and sweet anymore. I don’t play them on my piano, reviving myself with their emotional sounds. That to me is a problem; that mode of mind is no longer my primary function. What is a free mind free to think if it does not conjure something stupendous in its daily activity? I’ve sat here, wondering how I could fill these pages with words, but no words flowed, because ideas were not constantly spewing from my mind.

My old place of safety was the HFAC, though in recent years through my lack of new connections in the School of Music, I have hardly run into any familiar faces in the times during which I entered. But today I walked in with no plan in mind, just to try to gain back an inkling of… faith, perhaps.

I want to say that something remarkable happened. Because it did. For the following six hours, I remained at the slab and was granted the continuous presence of my marvelous music major friends, one by one. Before one left, another would take their place. Even until the very end of the day, I was in the constant presence of friends, old and new. But I learned something from my conversations with each one of those people. I felt something exciting that I missed deeply – the opportunity for expression, not mere subjectivity, but that which isn’t tainted by the opinions of the masses. We are not laymen, lowly citizens whose voices are desperate to be heard. We do not even care for such an aspect, because we are already aware of the talents which we hold, and those are what we live and breathe. They are a way of life, a culture. The creativity of the mind which can bend the ordinary into the extraordinary is a magnificent feature of life.

During my stay at the slab, I watched a video on YouTube, randomly, concerning numbers in series. I’m not sure why, but the video was found in my recommendations, so I decided to view it. One of the topics which was explained in depth was an explanation of the series summation of all the natural numbers, that is, 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + 5 + … + infinity. This series sums to -1/12. Yeah, a negative number. Every positive integer added from 1 to infinity is equal to this number. It was bizarre to learn at first, even with the assurance that many applications of this identity appear in the real world, for example in quantum physics and string theory. It was explained that I had learned correctly in elementary calculus that this series diverges (though even that isn’t always intuitive). However, it simply diverges due to our standardized definition of convergence. We could ingrain this principle and forget that math is a language that continues to add theorems and definitions, to build upon itself. We could forget that every series that we have discarded as divergent could belong to a family of differing kinds of non-traditional convergences. With other summation techniques which allow for more and more series which were thought before to be divergent to now have finite values, we can then apply these definitions in our favor. It isn’t cheating, it is simply real life. And I think that is the way that the creative mind must also work. I love mathematics, and though we may only take the parts which we need to punch the numbers of our tools and machines, it has within it a deep and spacious reservoir of understanding, one that can teach us about the concept of infinity and how truth, elegance, and beauty are not only extremely relevant to one another but also oftentimes seem to be the exact opposite of what they are.

Maybe sometime I will see the connection between the innovation of the artist with the engineer. Those Renaissance men seemed to have it down, but it seems there needs to be more than elementary knowledge to produce the works and notebooks of Leonardo and Petrarch. The creative world seems to be my calling, but I think I must be patient for this role to become fulfilled in my career. Today was a breath of divine air, and a good reminder to me that I still have something there. My world is not gone, and though it has lain dormant for a long while, I know that I am being looked out for. And there is definitely a need for one to go back and ensure that the good of the past is not forgotten, nor buried.